Miss Phalen & St. Algebra in Lolita; male of geometrid in Speak, Memory; phalène in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 04/08/2019 - 09:41

Describing his life with Charlotte in Ramsdale, Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in VN's novel Lolita, 1955) mentions Miss Phalen and her sister:


The Humberts walked on, sandaled and robed.

“Do you know, Hum: I have one most ambitious dream,” pronounced Lady Hum, lowering her head - shy of that dream – and communing with the tawny ground. “I would love to get hold of a real trained servant maid like that German girl the Talbots spoke of; and have her live in the house.”

“No room,” I said.

“Come,” she said with her quizzical smile, “surely, chéri, you underestimate the possibilities of the Humbert home. We would put her in Lo’s room. I intended to make a guestroom of that hole anyway. It’s the coldest and meanest in the whole house.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked, the skin of my cheekbones tensing up (this I take the trouble to note only because my daughter’s skin did the same when she felt that way: disbelief, disgust, irritation).

“Are you bothered by Romantic Associations?” queried my wife – in allusion to her first surrender.

“Hell no,” said I. “I just wonder where will you put your daughter when you get your guest or your maid.”

“Ah,” said Mrs. Humbert, dreaming, smiling, drawing out the “Ah” simultaneously with the raise of one eyebrow and a soft exhalation of breath. “Little Lo, I’m afraid, does not enter the picture at all, at all. Little Lo goes straight from camp to a good boarding school with strict discipline and some sound religious training. And then – Beardsley College. I have it all mapped out, you need not worry.”

She went on to say that she, Mrs. Humbert, would have to overcome her habitual sloth and write to Miss Phalen’s sister who taught at St. Algebra. The dazzling lake emerged. I said I had forgotten my sunglasses in the car and would catch up with her. (1.20)


My habit of being silent when displeased or, more exactly, the cold and scaly quality of my displeased silence, used to frighten Valeria out of her wits. She used to whimper and wail, saying “Ce qui me rend folle, c’est que je ne sais à quoi tu penses quand tu es comme ça.” I tried being silent with Charlotte - and she just chirped on, or chucked my silence under the chin. An astonishing woman! I would retire to my former room, now a regular “studio,” mumbling I had after all a learned opus to write, and cheerfully Charlotte went on beautifying the home, warbling on the telephone and writing letters. From my window, through the lacquered shiver of poplar leaves, I could see her crossing the street and contentedly mailing her letter to Miss Phalen’s sister. (1.21)


I think it was exactly a week after our last swim that the noon mail brought a reply from the second Miss Phalen. The lady wrote she had just returned to St. Algebra from her sister’s funeral. “Euphemia had never been the same after breaking that hip.” As to the matter of Mrs. Humbert’s daughter, she wished to report that it was too late to enroll her this year; but that she, the surviving Phalen, was practically certain that if Mr. and Mrs. Humbert brought Dolores over in January, her admittance might be arranged. (1.22)


Euphemia (1790) is an epistolary novel by Charlotte Lennox, the author of The Female Quixote (1752). According to Humbert Humbert, his father read to him Don Quixote and Les Miserables:


I grew, a happy, healthy child in a bright would of illustrated books, clean sand, orange trees, friendly dogs, sea vistas and smiling faces. Around me the splendid Hotel Mirana revolved as a kind of private universe, a whitewashed cosmos within the blue greater one that blazed outside. From the aproned pot-scrubber to the flanneled potentate, everybody liked me, everybody petted me. Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed towards me like towers of Pisa. Ruined Russian princesses who could not pay my father, bought me expensive bonbons. He, mon cher petit papa, took me out boating and biking, taught me to swim and dive and water-ski, read to me Don Quixote and Les Miserables, and I adored and respected him and felt glad for him whenever I overheard the servants discuss his various lady-friends, beautiful and kind beings who made much of me and cooed and shed precious tears over my cheerful motherlessness. (1.2)


“Miss Phalen” seems to blend Miss Smolen, the singer (la belle Américaine) in Alfred de Musset’s poem Le Saule (“The Willow”), with le phalène (the moth) in the same poem. In the butterfly chapter of his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951) VN quotes “Musset’s well-known lines:"


In the works of major Russian poets I can discover only two lepidopteral images of genuinely sensuous quality: Bunin’s impeccable evocation of what is certainly a Tortoiseshell:


And there will fly into the room
A colored butterfly in silk
To flutter, rustle and pit-pat
On the blue ceiling …


and Fet’s “Butterfly” soliloquizing:


Whence have I come and whither am I hasting
Do not inquire;
Now on a graceful flower I have settled
And now respire.


In French poetry one is struck by Musset’s well-known lines (in Le Saule):


Le phalène doré dans sa course légère
Traverse les prés embaumés


which is an absolutely exact description of the crepuscular flight of the male of the geometrid called in England the Orange moth; and there is Fargue’s fascinatingly apt phrase (in Les Quatres Journées) about a garden which, at nightfall, se glace de bleu comme l’aile du grand Sylvain (the Poplar Admirable). And among the very few genuine lepidopterological images in English poetry, my favorite is Browning’s


On our other side is the straight-up rock;
And a path is kept ’twixt the gorge and it
By boulder-stones where lichens mock
The marks on a moth, and small ferns fit
Their teeth to the polished block

(“By the Fire-side”) (Chapter Six, 3)


Describing his stay in Elphinstone (the town in which Lolita is abducted from him by Quilty), Humbert Humbert “quotes” Browning’s poem Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister:


No doubt, I was a little delirious – and on the following day I was still a vibration rather than a solid, for when I looked out of the bathroom window at the adjacent lawn, I saw Dolly’s beautiful young bicycle propped up there on its support, the graceful front wheel looking away from me, as it always did, and a sparrow perched on the saddle – but it was the landlady’s bike, and smiling a little, and shaking my poor head over my fond fancies, I tottered back to my bed, and lay as quiet as a saint


Saint, forsooth! While brown Dolores,

On a patch of sunny green

With Sanchicha reading stories

In a movie magazine


which was represented by numerous specimens wherever Dolores landed, and there was some great national celebration in town judging by the firecrackers, veritable bombs, that exploded all the time, and at five minutes to two p. m. I heard the sound of whistling lips nearing the half-opened door of my cabin, and then a thump upon it. (2.22)


Lolita’s full name is Dolores Haze. In Paracelsus (1835) Robert Browning mentions a luminous haze that links star to star:


Even as a luminous haze links star to star,
I would supply all chasms with music, breathing
Mysterious motions of the soul, no way
To be defined save in strange melodies. (Part II)


In Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart and Salieri (1830) 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)


and Mozart calls himself and Salieri “two sons of harmony:”


М о ц а р т

За твоё

Здоровье, друг, за искренний союз,

Связующий Моцарта и Сальери,

Двух сыновей гармонии.




To your health,

My friend, and to the loyal bond

that binds together Mozart and Salieri,

two sons of harmony. (Scene II)


In his elegy Lucie Musset calls harmony “daughter of suffering, language that for love the genius invented:”


Fille de la douleur, harmonie, harmonie

Langue que pour l'amour inventa le génie!


In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van Veen (the narrator and main character) mentions le phalène, rhyming it with mon Hélène:


As had been peculiar to his nature even in the days of his youth, Van was apt to relieve a passion of anger and disappointment by means of bombastic and arcane utterances which hurt like a jagged fingernail caught in satin, the lining of Hell.

‘Castle True, Castle Bright!’ he now cried, ‘Helen of Troy, Ada of Ardis! You have betrayed the Tree and the Moth!’

Perestagne (stop, cesse)!’

‘Ardis the First, Ardis the Second, Tanned Man in a Hat, and now Mount Russet —’

‘Perestagne!’ repeated Ada (like a fool dealing with an epileptic).

‘Oh! Qui me rendra mon Hélène —’

Ach, perestagne!

‘— et le phalène.’

Je t’emplie ("prie" and "supplie"), stop, Van. Tu sais que j’en vais mourir.’

‘But, but, but’ — (slapping every time his forehead) — ‘to be on the very brink of, of, of — and then have that idiot turn Keats!’

‘Bozhe moy, I must be going. Say something to me, my darling, my only one, something that might help!’

There was a narrow chasm of silence broken only by the rain drumming on the eaves.

‘Stay with me, girl,’ said Van, forgetting everything — pride, rage, the convention of everyday pity.

For an instant she seemed to waver — or at least to consider wavering; but a resonant voice reached them from the drive and there stood Dorothy, gray-caped and mannish-hatted, energetically beckoning with her unfurled umbrella.

‘I can’t, I can’t, I’ll write you,’ murmured my poor love in tears.


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): phalène: moth (see also p.111).


In “Ardis the First” Van and Ada used to compose petits vers, vers de soie (fugitive poetry and silk worms), as Ada calls them:


My sister, do you still recall

The blue Ladore and Ardis Hall?


Don’t you remember any more

That castle bathed by the Ladore?


Ma sœur, te souvient-il encore

Du château que baignait la Dore?


My sister, do you still recall

The Ladore-washed old castle wall?


Sestra moya, tï pomnish’ goru,

I dub vïsokiy, i Ladoru?


My sister, you remember still

The spreading oak tree and my hill?


Oh! qui me rendra mon Aline

Et le grand chêne et ma colline?


Oh, who will give me back my Jill

And the big oak tree and my hill?


Oh! qui me rendra, mon Adèle,

Et ma montagne et l’hirondelle?


Oh! qui me rendra ma Lucile,

La Dore et l’hirondelle agile?


Oh, who will render in our tongue

The tender things he loved and sung? (1.22)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Ma soeur te souvient-il encore: first line of the third sextet of Chateaubriand’s Romance à Hélène (‘Combien j’ai douce souvenance’) composed to an Auvergne tune that he heard during a trip to Mont Dore in 1805 and later inserted in his novella Le Dernier Abencerage. The final (fifth) sextet begins with ‘Oh! qui me rendra mon Hélène. Et ma montagne et le grand chêne’ — one of the leitmotivs of the present novel.


sestra moya etc.: my sister, do you remember the mountain, and the tall oak, and the Ladore?


oh! qui me rendra etc.: oh who will give me back my Aline, and the big oak, and my hill?


Lucile: the name of Chateaubriand’s actual sister.


Chateaubriand’s Romance à Hélène is also known as Le Montagnard exilé. Describing his second road trip with Lolita across the USA, Humbert Humbert mentions le montagnard émigré in his bear-skin glory:


I remember as a child in Europe gloating over a map of North America that had “Appalachian Mountains” boldly running from Alabama up to New Brunswick, so that the whole region they spanned – Tennessee, the Virginias, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, appeared to my imagination as a gigantic Switzerland or even Tibet, all mountain, glorious diamond peak upon peak, giant conifers, le montagnard émigré in his bear-skin glory, and Felis tigris goldsmithi, and Red Indians under the catalpas. That it all boiled down to a measly suburban lawn and a smoking garbage incinerator, was appalling. Farewell, Appalachia! Leaving it, we crossed Ohio, the three states beginning with “I,” and Nebraska – ah, that first whiff of the West! We traveled very leisurely, having more than a week to reach Wace, Continental Divide, where she passionately desired to see he Ceremonial Dances marking the seasonal opening of Magic Cave, and at least three weeks to reach Elphinstone, gem of a western State where she yearned to climb Red Rock from which a mature screen star had recently jumped to her death after a drunken row with her gigolo. (2.16)


According to Humbert Humbert, he picked up Rita at a darkishly burning bar under the sign of the Tiger-moth:


She was twice Lolita’s age and three quarters of mine: a very slight, dark-haired, pale-skinned adult, weighing a hundred and five pounds, with charmingly asymmetrical eyes, and angular, rapidly sketched profile, and a most appealing ensellure to her supple back – I think she had some Spanish or Babylonian blood. I picked her up one depraved May evening somewhere between Montreal and New York, or more narrowly, between Toylestown and Blake, at a darkishly burning bar under the sign of the Tiger-moth, where she was amiably drunk: she insisted we had gone to school together, and she placed her trembling little hand on my ape paw. My senses were very slightly stirred but I decided to give her a try; I did – and adopted her as a constant companion. She was so kind, was Rita, such a good sport, that I daresay she would have given herself to any pathetic creature or fallacy, an old broken tree or a bereaved porcupine, out of sheer chumminess and compassion. (2.26)


“A darkishly burning bar” brings to mind the Night of the Burning Barn in “Ardis the First,” when Van and Ada make love for the first time (1.19). Van believes that in the Night of the Burning Barn Ada is innocent and "as pure as the night sky," but – as they watch Kim Beauharnais’s album – it becomes clear that Ada’s first lover was Dr. Krolik's brother, Karol, or Karapars, Krolik, a doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey (2.7). Ada’s beloved teacher of natural history, Dr. Krolik is the local entomologist. After the dinner in ‘Ursus’ and love-making in Van’s Manhattan flat Ada complains that Van hurt her “like a Tiger Turk.” (2.8)


According to Ada, when she saw Demon Veen (Van's and Ada's father whose mistresses become younger and younger as he gets older) at Marina's funeral, he looked "positively Quixotic" (3.8). In a letter to Van Demon describes Don Juan's Last Fling (the film that Van and Lucette watched in the Tobakoff cinema hall) and mentions Cervantes's crude romance:


The film you saw was, no doubt, Don Juan’s Last Fling in which Ada, indeed, impersonates (very beautifully) a Spanish girl. A jinx has been cast on our poor girl’s career. Howard Hool argued after the release that he had been made to play an impossible cross between two Dons; that initially Yuzlik (the director) had meant to base his 'fantasy' on Cervantes's crude romance; that some scraps of the basic script stuck like dirty wool to the final theme; and that if you followed closely the sound track you could hear a fellow reveler in the tavern scene address Hool twice as ‘Quicks.’ Hool managed to buy up and destroy a number of copies while others have been locked up by the lawyer of the writer Osberg, who claims the gitanilla sequence was stolen from one of his own concoctions. In result it is impossible to purchase a reel of the picture which will vanish like the proverbial smoke once it has fizzled out on provincial screens." (3.7)


In a letter to Ada (who played the gitanilla in Yuzlik's film) Van compares her performance to a butterfly's flight:


In Manhattan, in Kingston, in Lahore, in dozens of other towns, I kept pursuing the picture which I had not [badly discolored] on the boat, from cinema to cinema, every time discovering a new item of glorious torture, a new convulsion of beauty in your performance. That [illegible] is a complete refutation of odious Kim’s odious stills. Artistically, and ardisiacally, the best moment is one of the last — when you follow barefoot the Don who walks down a marble gallery to his doom, to the scaffold of Dona Anna’s black-curtained bed, around which you flutter, my Zegris butterfly, straightening a comically drooping candle, whispering delightful but futile instructions into the frowning lady’s ear, and then peering over that mauresque screen and suddenly dissolving in such natural laughter, helpless and lovely, that one wonders if any art could do without that erotic gasp of schoolgirl mirth. And to think, Spanish orange-tip, that all in all your magic gambol lasted but eleven minutes of stopwatch time in patches of two- or three-minute scenes! (ibid.)


The heroine's name in The Female Quixote; or, The Adventures of Arabella brings to mind an obscene ancient Arab mentioned by the poet Max Mispel in his review of Van's novel Letters from Terra:


The only other compliment was paid to poor Voltemand in a little Manhattan magazine (The Village Eyebrow) by the poet Max Mispel (another botanical name — ‘medlar’ in English), member of the German Department at Goluba University. Herr Mispel, who liked to air his authors, discerned in Letters from Terra the influence of Osberg (Spanish writer of pretentious fairy tales and mystico-allegoric anecdotes, highly esteemed by short-shift thesialists) as well as that of an obscene ancient Arab, expounder of anagrammatic dreams, Ben Sirine, thus transliterated by Captain de Roux, according to Burton in his adaptation of Nefzawi’s treatise on the best method of mating with obese or hunchbacked females (The Perfumed Garden, Panther edition, p.187, a copy given to ninety-three-year-old Baron Van Veen by his ribald physician Professor Lagosse). His critique ended as follows: ‘If Mr Voltemand (or Voltimand or Mandalatov) is a psychiatrist, as I think he might be, then I pity his patients, while admiring his talent.’ (2.2)


Van's novel came out under the imprint of two bogus houses, ‘Abencerage’ in Manhattan, and ‘Zegris’ in London:


Letters from Terra, by Voltemand, came out in 1891 on Van’s twenty-first birthday, under the imprint of two bogus houses, ‘Abencerage’ in Manhattan, and ‘Zegris’ in London.

(Had I happened to see a copy I would have recognized Chateaubriand’s lapochka and hence your little paw, at once.) (2.2)


Van Veen was born on January 1, 1870. January 1 is also Lolita's birthday.


Humbert Humbert's uncle was a great traveler in perfumes. After his death Humbert Humbert moved to America and accepted the soft job that consisted mainly of thinking up and editing perfume ads (1.9). As pointed out by James Buckingham (https://thenabokovian.org/sites/default/files/2019-04/Miss%20Phalen%20in%20Lolita_1.pdf), La Phalène was an exquisite perfume. According to Humbert Humbert, a dreadful breakdown soon sent him to a sanatorium where he spent more than a year (and where he was treated by Van's colleagues).


Phalen + Sirine = phalène + Sirin (VN's Russian nom de plume)

Phalen + home = Omphale + hen


Omphale was the queen of Lydia to whom Hercules was sold as a slave. Describing the movies he watched with Lolita, Humbert Humbert mentions a Hercules:


There were other unpleasant incidents. There was the movie theatre once, for example. Lo at the time still had for the cinema a veritable passion (it was to decline into tepid condescension during her second high school year). We took in, voluptuously and indiscriminately, oh, I don’t know, one hundred and fifty or two hundred programs during that one year, and during some of the denser periods of movie-going we saw many of the newsreels up to half-a-dozen times since the same weekly one went with different main pictures and pursued us from town to town. Her favorite kinds were, in this order: musicals, underworlders, westerners. In the first, real singers and dancers had unreal stage careers in an essentially grief-proof sphere of existence wherefrom death and truth were banned, and where, at the end, white-haired, dewy-eyed, technically deathless, the initially reluctant father of a show-crazy girl always finished by applauding her apotheosis on fabulous Broadway. The underworld was a world apart: there, heroic newspapermen were tortured, telephone bills ran to billions, and, in a robust atmosphere of incompetent marksmanship, villains were chased through sewers and store-houses by pathologically fearless cops (I was to give them less exercise). Finally there was the mahogany landscape, the florid-faced, blue-eyed roughriders, the prim pretty schoolteacher arriving in Roaring Gulch, the rearing horse, the spectacular stampede, the pistol thrust through the shivered windowpane, the stupendous fist fight, the crashing mountain of dusty old-fashioned furniture, the table used as a weapon, the timely somersault, the pinned hand still groping for the dropped bowie knife, the grunt, the sweet crash of fist against chin, the kick in the belly, the flying tackle; and immediately after a plethora of pain that would have hospitalized a Hercules (I should know by now), nothing to show but the rather becoming bruise on the bronzed cheek of the warmed-up hero embracing his gorgeous frontier bride. I remember one matinee in a small airless theatre crammed with children and reeking with the hot breath of popcorn. The moon was yellow above the neckerchiefed crooner, and his finger was on his strumstring, and his foot was on a pine log, and I had innocently encircled Lo’s shoulder and approached my jawbone to her temple, when two harpies behind us started muttering the queerest thingsI do not know if I understood aright, but what I thought I did, made me withdraw my gentle hand, and of course the rest of the show was fog to me. (2.3)


When Humbert Humbert murders Clare Quilty, the latter warns him that he should never use herculanita with rum:


I am a playwright. I have been called the American Maeterlinck. Maeterlinck-Schmetterling, says I. Come on! All this is very humiliating, and I am not sure I am doing the right thing. Never use herculanita with rum. Now drop that pistol like a good fellow. I knew your dear wife slightly. You may use my wardrobe. Oh, another thing - you are going to like this. I have an absolutely unique collection of erotica upstairs. Just to mention one item: the in folio de-luxe Bagration Island by the explorer and psychoanalyst Melanie Weiss, a remarkable lady, a remarkable work - drop that gun - with photographs of eight hundred and something male organs she examined and measured in 1932 on Bagration, in the Barda Sea, very illuminating graphs, plotted with love under pleasant skies - drop that gun - and moreover I can arrange for you to attend executions, not everybody knows that the chair is painted yellow” (2.35)


Schmetterling is German for "butterfly." At the end of his poem A Julie Musset compares himself to the dying Hercules:


Allons, Julie, il faut t'attendre
A me voir quelque jour en cendre,
Comme Hercule sur son rocher.
Puisque c'est par toi que j'expire,
Ouvre ta robe, Déjanire,
Que je monte sur mon bûcher.


Describing in a diary his first meeting with Armande (his future wife), Hugh Person (the main character in VN's novel Transparent Things, 1972) quotes the two last lines of Musset's poem:


"Spoke to a girl on the train. Adorable brown naked legs and golden sandals. A schoolboy's insane desire and a romantic tumult never felt previously. Armande Chamar. La particule aurait juré avec la dernière syllabe de mon prénom. I believe Byron uses 'chamar,' meaning 'peacock fan,' in a very noble Oriental milieu. Charmingly sophisticated, yet marvelously naive. Chalet above Witt built by father. If you find yourself in those parages. Wished to know if I liked my job. My job! I replied; "Ask me what I can do, not what I do, lovely girl, lovely wake of the sun through semitransparent black fabric. I can commit to memory a whole page of the directory in three minutes flat but am incapable of remembering my own telephone number. I can compose patches of poetry as strange and new as you are, or as anything a person may write three hundred years hence, but I have never published one scrap of verse except some juvenile nonsense at college. I have evolved on the playing courts of my father's school a devastating return of service – a cut clinging drive – but am out of breath after one game. Using ink and aquarelle I can paint a lakescape of unsurpassed translucence with all the mountains of paradise reflected therein, but am unable to draw a boat or a bridge or the silhouette of human panic in the blazing windows of a villa by Plam. I have taught French in American schools but have never been able to get rid of my mother's Canadian accent, though I hear it clearly when I whisper French words. Ouvre ta robe, Déjanire that I may mount sur mon bûcher. I can levitate one inch high and keep it up for ten seconds, but cannot climb an apple tree. I possess a doctor's degree in philosophy, but have no German. I have fallen in love with you but shall do nothing about it. In short I am an all-round genius.' By a coincidence worthy of that other genius, his stepdaughter had given her the book she was reading. Julia Moore has no doubt forgotten that I possessed her a couple of years ago. Both mother and daughter are intense travelers. They have visited Cuba and China, and such-like dreary, primitive spots, and speak with fond criticism of the many charming and odd people they made friends with there. Parlez-moi de son stepfather. Is he très fasciste? Could not understand why I called Mrs. R.'s left-wingism a commonplace bourgeois vogue. Mais au contraire, she and her daughter adore radicals! Well, I said, Mr. R., lui, is immune to politics. My darling thought that was the trouble with him. Toffee-cream neck with a tiny gold cross and a grain de beauté. Slender, athletic, lethal!" (chapter 9)


At the end of the novel Hugh Person dies in a fire in the Ascot Hotel in Witt. Humbert Humbert would have never met Lolita, if the fire did not destroy McCoo's house:


Nobody met me at the toy station where I alighted with my new expensive bag, and nobody answered the telephone; eventually, however, a distraught McCoo in wet clothes turned up at the only hotel of green-and-pink Ramsdale with the news that his house had just burned down - possibly, owing to the
synchronous conflagration that had been raging all night in my veins. His family, he said, had fled to a farm he owned, and had taken the car, but a friend of his wife's, a grand person, Mrs. Haze of 342 Lawn Street, offered to accommodate me. A lady who lived opposite Mrs. Haze’s had lent McCoo her limousine, a marvelously old-fashioned, square-topped affair, manned by a cheerful Negro. Now, since the only reason for my coming at all had vanished, the aforesaid arrangement seemed preposterous. All right, his house would have to be completely rebuilt, so what? Had he not insured it sufficiently? I was angry, disappointed and bored, but being a polite European, could not refuse to be sent off to Lawn Street in that funeral car, feeling that otherwise McCoo would devise an even more elaborate means of getting rid of me. I saw him scamper away, and my chauffeur shook his head with a soft chuckle. En route, I swore to myself I would not dream of staying in Ramsdale under any circumstance but would fly that very day to the Bermudas or the Bahamas or the Blazes. Possibilities of sweetness on technicolor beaches had been trickling through my spine for some time before, and McCoo’s cousin had, in fact, sharply diverted that train of thought with his well-meaning but as it transpired now absolutely inane suggestion. (1.10)


When Humbert Humbert visits Lolita (now married to Dick Schiller) in Coalmont, she tells him that Duk Duk Ranch to which Quilty took her had burned to the ground:


There was not much else to tell. That winter 1949, Fay and she had found jobs. For almost two years she had - oh, just drifted, oh, doing some restaurant work in small places, and then she had met Dick. No, she did not know where the other was. In New York, she guessed. Of course, he was so famous she would have found him at once if she had wanted. Fay had tried to get back to the Ranch - and it just was not there anymore - it had burned to the ground, nothing remained, just a charred heap of rubbish. It was so strange, so strange. (2.29)


Describing his childhood romance with Annabel Leigh, Humbert Humbert mentions Annabel's mother, born Vanessa van Ness:


Let me therefore primly limit myself, in describing Annabel, to saying she was a lovely child a few months my junior. Her parents were old friends of my aunt’s, and as stuffy as she. They had rented a villa not far from Hotel Mirana. Bald brown Mr. Leigh and fat, powdered Mrs. Leigh (born Vanessa van Ness). How I loathed them! At first, Annabel and I talked of peripheral affairs. She kept lifting handfuls of fine sand and letting it pour through her fingers. Our brains were turned the way those of intelligent European preadolescents were in our day and set, and I doubt if much individual genius should be assigned to our interest in the plurality of inhabited worlds, competitive tennis, infinity, solipsism and so on. The softness and fragility of baby animals caused us the same intense pain. She wanted to be a nurse in some famished Asiatic country; I wanted to be a famous spy. (1.3)


Nessus was a centaur who was killed by Hercules and whose blood poisoned Hercules. In Canto Two and then again at the end of his poem John Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) mentions a Vanessa butterfly:


Come and be worshiped, come and be caressed,

My dark Vanessa, crimson-barred, my blest

My Admirable butterfly! Explain

How could you, in the gloam of Lilac Lane,

Have let uncouth, hysterical John Shade

Blubber your face, and ear, and shoulder blade? (ll. 269-274)


A dark Vanessa with a crimson band

Wheels in the low sun, settles on the sand

And shows its ink-blue wingtips flecked with white.

And through the flowing shade and ebbing light

A man, unheedful of the butterfly -

Some neighbor's gardener, I guess - goes by

Trundling an empty barrow up the lane. (ll. 993-999)


Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla, Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s almost finished poem needs but one line (Line 1000, identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that, like some sonnets, Shade’s poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”).


The "real" name of Shade, Kinbote and Gradus (the poet's murderer) seems to be Botkin. The author of Babochka ("The Butterfly," 1884), Afanasiy Fet was married to Maria Botkin.