56 days in Lolita

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sun, 07/21/2019 - 15:15

According to Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Lolita, 1955), it took him fifty-six days (eight weeks) to write Lolita:

 

When I started, fifty-six days ago, to write Lolita, first in the psychopathic ward for observation, and then in this well-heated, albeit tombal, seclusion, I thought I would use these notes in toto at my trial, to save not my head, of course, but my soul. In mind-composition, however, I realized that I could not parade living Lolita. I still may use parts of this memoir in hermetic sessions, but publication is to be deferred. (2.36)

 

Humbert receives a letter from Lolita on Sept. 22, 1952, visits her in Coalmont on the next day (Sept. 23), revisits Ramsdale (where he finds out Quilty's address) on Sept. 24, and murders Quilty on Sept. 25. Normally, fifty-two days pass between Sept. 25 (the day of HH’s arrest) and Dec. 16 (the day of HH’s death). But it seems that, in Nabokov’s calendar, 1952 (a leap year) had as many as 370 (366 + 4) days. In that calendar there must have been thirty-two days in September and thirty-three days in October. Or, perhaps, as in Gogol’s story Zapiski sumasshedshego (“The Notes of a Madman,” 1835), those four extra days had no dates at all. In his diary Poprishchin (the main character in Gogol’s story) mentions Polignac, a French politician (1780-1847):

 

Судя по всем вероятиям, догадываюсь: не попался ли я в руки инквизиции, и тот, которого я принял за канцлера, не есть ли сам великий инквизитор. Только я всё не могу понять, как же мог король подвергнуться инквизиции. Оно, правда, могло со стороны Франции, и особенно Полинияк. О, это бестия Полинияк! Поклялся вредить мне по смерть. И вот гонит да и гонит; но я знаю, приятель, что тебя водит англичанин. Англичанин большой политик. Он везде юлит. Это уже известно всему свету, что когда Англия нюхает табак, то Франция чихает.

 

Judging by all the circumstances, it seems to me as though I had fallen into the hands of the Inquisition, and as though the man whom I took to be the Chancellor was the Grand Inquisitor. But yet I cannot understand how the king could fall into the hands of the Inquisition. The affair may have been arranged by France — especially Polignac — he is a hound, that Polignac! He has sworn to compass my death, and now he is hunting me down. But I know, my friend, that you are only a tool of the English. They are clever fellows, and have a finger in every pie. All the world knows that France sneezes when England takes a pinch of snuff.

 

In December 1830 Polignac (whose appointment as prime minister by Charles X provoked the July Revolution) was sentenced to life imprisonment and spent the last seventeen years of his life in prison. Humbert Humbert writes Lolita in confinement (and in prison time goes not as fast, as at liberty). Polignac brings to mind the Poling Prize that John Ray, Jr. (the author of the Foreword to Humbert Humbert's manuscript, a good friend and relation of HH’s lawyer) was awarded for a modest work (“Do the Senses make Sense?”) wherein certain morbid states and perversions had been discussed.

 

Traditionally, the five senses are recognized as sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. “Do the Senses make Sense?” (the title of John Ray's work) brings to mind Gumilyov’s poem Shestoe chuvstvo (“The Sixth Sense,” 1920). Gumilyov was arrested on Aug. 3, 1921 (four days before Alexander Blok's death). At the beginning of his memoir essay "Gumilyov and Blok" (1926) Hodasevich says that, for him, Blok (who died on Aug. 7) and Gumilyov (who was executed in the last week of August) died on the same day:

 

Блок умер 7-го, Гумилёв — 27-го августа 1921 года. Но для меня они оба умерли 3-го августа. Почему — я расскажу ниже.

 

Blok is the author of Dvenadtsat’ (“The Twelve,” 1918). The critics saw in the twelve Red Army soldiers led by Jesus Christ the apostols. After the murder of Quilty Humbert is not certain that his victim is dead and mentions Thomas (the apostol):

 

The rest is a little flattish and faded. Slowly I drove downhill, and presently found myself going at the same lazy pace in a direction opposite to Parkington. I had left my raincoat in the boudoir and Chum in the bathroom. No, it was not a house I would have liked to live in. I wondered idly if some surgeon of genius might not alter his own career, and perhaps the whole destiny of mankind, by reviving quilted Quilty, Clare Obscure. Not that I cared; on the whole I wished to forget the whole mess - and when I did learn he was dead, the only satisfaction it gave me, was the relief of knowing I need not mentally accompany for months a painful and disgusting convalescence interrupted by all kinds of unmentionable operations and relapses, and perhaps an actual visit from him, with trouble on my part to rationalize him as not being a ghost. Thomas had something. It is strange that the tactile sense, which is so infinitely less precious to men than sight, becomes at critical moment our main, if not only, handle to reality. I was all covered with Quilty - with the feel of that tumble before the bleeding. (2.36)

 

Choate in the name of HH’s lawyer (Clarence Choate Clark) may hint at Gogol’s story Shinel’ (“The Overcoat,” 1841). Humbert Humbert's pseudonym brings to mind Akakiy Akakievich, the main character in "The Overcoat."

 

Gogol died on March 4, 1852 (OS), a hundred years before Humbert's death. Like 1952, 1852 was a leap year. One of the entries in Poprishchin's diary is dated "Marchober 86, between day and night."

 

In “The Notes of a Madman” Poprishchin is avidly reading the correspondence of dogs. Humbert’s wife Charlotte (Lolita’s mother who dies under the wheels of a truck because of a neighbor’s hysterical dog) “had been knocked down and dragged several feet by the Beale car as she was hurrying across the street to drop three letters in the mailbox, at the corner of Miss Opposite’s lawn.” (1.23)

 

In Lolita the number 342 reappears three times. 342 Lawn Street is the address of the Haze house in Ramsdale. 342 is Humbert Humbert's and Lolita's room in The Enchanted Hunters (a hotel in Briceland where they spend their first night together). According to Humbert Humbert, between July 5 and November 18, 1949, he registered (if not actually stayed) at 342 hotels, motels and tourist homes.

 

370 − 342 = 28

28 × 2 = 56

 

Nabokov's Dozen (1958) is a collection of thirteen stories. Perhaps, in Nabokov's Day there are twenty-eight hours? Lolita is abducted from Humbert on July 4 (the Independence Day), 1949. Lolita's letter that Humbert receives on Sept. 22, 1952, is dated Sept. 18, 1952. Chetyre dnya ("Four Days," 1877) is a story by Garshin. It is the tragedy of a man who killed.

 

Day, den' ("day" in Russian) and Dolores (Lolita's name on the dotted line) begin with D, the fourth letter of the Latin alphabet (in the Russian alphabet, the fourth letter is Г, Gogol's, Garshin's, Gumilyov's and Gumbert Gumbert's initial that looks like Lolita's initial turned upside down). Clarence Choate Clark's and Charlotte's names begin with C, the alphabet's third letter (the third letter of the Russian alphabet, В corresponds to the Latin V). Describing his stay with Lolita in The Enchanted Hunters, Humbert mentions Mr Braddock, Miss Beard and Dr Boyd ("Boyd is quite a boy," according to HH) whose names begin with B (the alphabet's second letter). The maiden name of Lolita's mother is Charlotte Becker. 342 = CDB = ВГБ (the Cyrillic equivalent of 342). ВГБ brings to mind Mme Vagabundov, a character in VN's play Sobytie ("The Event," 1938). Her name seems to hint at the German film Ein Kind, ein Hund, ein Vagabund ("A Child, a Dog, a Tramp," 1934). The action in "The Event" takes place at the end of August, on the fiftieth birthday of Antonina Pavlovna Opayashin, a lady writer whose name and patronymic hints at Chekhov. A Roman numeral, L = 50.

 

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. Gray Star brings to mind seraya ot zvyozd dal’ (remote regions grey from the stars) mentioned by VN at the beginning of Drugie berega (“Other Shores,” 1954), the Russian version of his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951):

 

Сколько раз я чуть не вывихивал разума, стараясь высмотреть малейший луч личного среди безличной тьмы по оба предела жизни? Я готов был стать единоверцем последнего шамана, только бы не отказаться от внутреннего убеждения, что себя я не вижу в вечности лишь из-за земного времени, глухой стеной окружающего жизнь. Я забирался мыслью в серую от звёзд даль -- но ладонь скользила всё по той же совершенно непроницаемой глади. Кажется, кроме самоубийства, я перепробовал все выходы. Я отказывался от своего лица, чтобы проникнуть заурядным привидением в мир, существовавший до меня. Я мирился с унизительным соседством романисток, лепечущих о разных йогах и атлантидах. Я терпел даже отчёты о медиумистических переживаниях каких-то английских полковников индийской службы, довольно ясно помнящих свои прежние воплощения под ивами Лхассы. В поисках ключей и разгадок я рылся в своих самых ранних снах -- и раз уж я заговорил о снах, прошу заметить, что безоговорочно отметаю фрейдовщину и всю её тёмную средневековую подоплеку, с её маниакальной погоней за половой символикой, с её угрюмыми эмбриончиками, подглядывающими из природных засад угрюмое родительское соитие.

 

Over and over again, my mind has made colossal efforts to distinguish the faintest of personal glimmers in the impersonal darkness on both sides of my life. That this darkness is caused merely by the walls of time separating me and my bruised fists from the free world of timelessness is a belief I gladly share with the most gaudily painted savage. I have journeyed back in thought—with thought hopelessly tapering off as I went—to remote regions where I groped for some secret outlet only to discover that the prison of time is spherical and without exits. I have journeyed back in thought—with thought hopelessly tapering off as I went—to remote regions where I groped for some secret outlet only to discover that the prison of time is spherical and without exits. Short of suicide, I have tried everything. I have doffed my identity in order to pass for a conventional spook and steal into realms that existed before I was conceived. I have mentally endured the degrading company of Victorian lady novelists and retired colonels who remembered having, in former lives, been slave messengers on a Roman road or sages under the willows of Lhasa. I have ransacked my oldest dreams for keys and clues—and let me say at once that I reject completely the vulgar, shabby, fundamentally medieval world of Freud, with its crankish quest for sexual symbols (something like searching for Baconian acrostics in Shakespeare’s works) and its bitter little embryos spying, from their natural nooks, upon the love life of their parents. (Chapter One, 1)

 

Luch being Russian for “ray,” maleyshiy luch lichnogo (the faintest of personal glimmers) that VN tried to distinguish in the impersonal darkness on both sides of his life brings to mind John Ray, Jr. Like VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1952), Drugie berega were brought out by the Chekhov Publishing House in New York. In his memoir essay O Chekhove (“On Chekhov”), the first one in his book Na kladbishchakh (“At Cemeteries,” 1921), Vasiliy Nemirovich-Danchenko compares Chekhov’s laughter to luch v potyomkakh (a ray in the dark):

 

Смеялся он редко, но когда смеялся, всем становилось весело, точно луч в потёмках.

He laughed seldom, but when he laughed, everybody became cheerful, like a ray in the dark.

 

Laughter in the Dark is the English title of VN's novel Kamera Obskura (1933). In "The Event" the portrait painter Troshcheykin (Antonina Pavlovna's son-in-law) mentions Kamera Obskura, the best film of the season:

 

Рёвшин. Одним словом... Вчера около полуночи, так, вероятно, в три четверти одиннадцатого... фу, вру... двенадцатого, я шёл к себе из кинематографа на вашей площади и, значит, вот тут, в нескольких шагах от вашего дома, по той стороне, -- знаете, где киоск, -- при свете фонаря, вижу -- и не верю глазам -- стоит с папироской Барбашин.
Трощейкин. У нас на углу! Очаровательно. Ведь мы, Люба, вчера чуть-чуть не пошли тоже: ах, чудная фильма, ах, "Камера обскура" -- лучшая фильма сезона!.. Вот бы и ахнуло нас по случаю сезона. Дальше! (Act One)

 

As she speaks to her mother, Troshcheykin's wife Lyubov' compares the situation in her family to that in Gogol's play Revizor ("The Inspector," 1836):

 

Любовь. Одним словом: господа, к нам в город приехал ревизор. Я вижу, что ты всю эту историю воспринимаешь как добавочный сюрприз по случаю твоего рождения. Молодец, мамочка! А как, по-твоему, развивается дальше? Будет стрельба?
Антонина Павловна. Ну, это ещё надобно подумать. Может быть, он сам покончит с собой у твоих ног.
Любовь. А мне очень хотелось бы знать окончание. Леонид Викторович говорил о пьесах, что если в первом действии висит на стене ружьё, то в последнем оно должно дать осечку. (Act Two)