Vladimir Nabokov

Auntie Maud

By MARYROSS, 10 December, 2020

The fictional author of LATH, Vadim, is raised by a kooky grand-aunt, Baroness Bredow who exhorts him to:


‘Look at the Harlequins…Come on! Play! Invent the world! Invent reality’


I did. By Jove, I did. I invented my grand-aunt in honor of my first daydreams, and now, down the marble steps of memory’s front porch, here she slowly comes, sideways, sideways, the poor lame lady, touching each step edge with the rubber tip of her black cane.” (Novels 69-74, p.571)


Clearly this is an allusion to John Shade’s “bizarre Aunt Maud.” I believe this is also an allusion to another “great” aunt: Auntie Mame.


Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade is a 1955 novel by American author Patrick Dennis chronicling the madcap adventures of a boy, Patrick, growing up as the ward of the sister of his dead father. (Wikipedia)


Auntie Mame was a huge best-seller in 1955 and 1956. In 1958 a movie was made, which swept the Oscars. Also in 1958 a book sequel came out, Around the World with Auntie Mame, which also made the best seller list. In 1966 a Broadway musical, Mame, came out.


What makes this pertinent is that in 1958 Around the World with Auntie Mame was vying for best-seller with Lolita. By the end of the year Around the World with Auntie Mame came in #4 and Lolita #3.  (Lolita made #8 in 1959)



For what it is worth, I think the biography of the author, Patrick Dennis, is interesting if one were to suppose, as I think some of Mathew Roth’s discoveries from the Berg Collection (The Composition of Nabokov’s Pale Fire, p.19) seem to suggest, that VN may originally have planned to have John Shade dealing with homosexual fears.


<  Edward Everett Tanner III wrote the novel on which the film and stage play was based under the pseudonym Patrick Dennis. After his birth in 1921 and early years in Chicago, Tanner lived as colorfully as his aunt. A bon vivant, critic and popular novelist in the style of Noel Coward, he was a popular figure in New York society. His many other works include a novel, Around the World with Auntie Mame, which continued his autobiographical adventures, and Little Me, the "memoirs" of a fictional actress Belle Poitrine, which was adapted by Neil Simon into a Broadway musical. According to modern biographies, he was a loving husband and affectionate father. Upon realizing he was homosexual, Tanner entered a sanitarium and submitted himself to shock treatments, but eventually left his wife. Modern sources state that, after battling alcoholism and dwindling finances, he later seemed to find contentment in a second career as butler for Ray Kroc, CEO of McDonald's, before dying in his mid-fifties in 1976.




3 years 6 months ago

Wow what a life story for EET III. I'm surprised I've never heard of Auntie Mame with all of the adaptations. Have to add it to the list!