Vladimir Nabokov

1948 Newspaper Column, Source for Lolita

By matthew_roth, 27 February, 2023

Dear list,

Late last year, I was digging around and found this source for much of the Beardsley Star "Column for Teens" that appears in Part 2, Chapter 8 of Lolita. Nabokov borrowed most of the text from a 14 May 1948 column by Elizabeth Woodward. The copy I found was published in the Dayton Herald. I'm including the text below. The capitalized text represents phrases borrowed by VN and the brackets represent VN's slight changes to the column's actual wording.

Matt Roth

Elizabeth Woodward Says: Pop, Why Scare the Boys?

MAYBE IT IS A BIT HARD FOR YOU TO REALIZE THAT NOW THE BOYS ARE FINDING your little girl [her] ATTRACTIVE. TO YOU she’s [she is] STILL just a baby [a little gir]. To her, she’s a very grown-up, sophisticated lady. TO THE BOYS, SHE’S CHARMING AND FUN, LOVELY AND GAY. THEY LIKE HER.

And you don’t like it a bit. At least that’s the way some of you act. You might think you didn’t want your daughter to be sought after. You might think you had no confidence in her at all. You might think you didn’t trust any other member of your own sex.

You do want [Don’t you want] YOUR DAUGHTER . . . NOW THAT HER TURN HAS COME . . . TO BE HAPPY IN THE ADMIRATION AND COMPANY OF THE BOYS SHE LIKES[?]. You are proud that she’s attractive enough to warrant their seeking her out. You do want [Don’t you want] THEM TO HAVE WHOLESOME FUN TOGETHER[?].

But the way some of you dads act is enough to scare the boys away from your daughters for all time!

You save your company manners for your grownup guests . . . and leave them stowed away in the closet when your daughter’s friends are around. She wants her home and her parents to make the impression she wants them to make on her boy friends. And toward that end you refuse to lift a finger.

It’s your house, you reason, and you won’t be deflected from doing exactly as you want to do in it. So you shuffle around in your comfiest, run-down clothes. You sit in your easy chair and glower behind your paper. You insist on some wordy program when the young fry want music.

You don’t [Why not] TREAT THE YOUNG FELLOWS AS GUESTS IN YOUR HOUSE[?]. You don’t [Why not] MAKE CONVERSATION WITH THEM[?], DRAW THEM OUT, MAKE THEM LAUGH AND FEEL AT EASE[?]. You don’t register on them as a good egg. You are instead, a character to be avoided. So don’t be surprised if you daughter takes to dating out . . . instead of entertaining her friends at home.

You lay down a lot of rules and regulations too. As though the lad in question were a member of your own family. As if your own daughter were not capably of handling things by herself. You can lay down the law to her. But the boys she likes are the sons of parents who lay down their own rules. Get things straight with your own child. And save her the embarrassment of having you play heavy father to somebody else’s boy.

IF SHE BREAKS YOUR RULES . . . deal out the punishment to her. DON’T EXPLODE OUT LOUD IN FRONT OF HER PARTNER IN CRIME. Punishing him is out of your province. LET HER TAKE THE BRUNT OF YOUR PUNISHMENT IN PRIVATE. After all, it’s a private, family affair.

And so are your parental moods, temper, impatiences and annoyances. You don’t air them on all occasions before your own friends. If you want your daughter to feel that the boys she is interested in are welcome at your house . . . go out of your way to put your point across. AND STOP MAKING THE BOYS FEEL SHE’S THE DAUGHTER OF AN OLD OGRE.


1 year 1 month ago

Marvelous find! Thank you for sharing it. May I ask, if it's not giving too much away, how you came across it?

Dayton Herald brings to mind Dayton, Ohio (the birthplace of Dolores Quine, old hag of an actress mentioned by Humbert):


Quine, Dolores. Born in 1882, in Dayton, Ohio. Studied for stage at American Academy. First played in Ottawa in 1900. Made New York debut in 1904 in Never Talk to Strangers. Has disappeared since in [a list of some thirty plays follows].

How the look of my dear love’s name even affixed to some old hag of an actress, still makes me rock with helpless pain! Perhaps, she might have been an actress too. Born 1935. Appeared (I notice the slip of my pen in the preceding paragraph, but please do not correct it, Clarence) in The Murdered Playwright.  Quine the Swine. Guilty of killing Quilty. Oh, my Lolita, I have only words to play with! (1.8)


Btw., Quine, Dolores makes one think of Queen Dolores, a character in Franz Lehár's operetta The Merry Widow (1904). In VN's play Sobytie ("The Event," 1938) Mme Vagabundov (a model of the portrait painter Troshcheykin) says that she is a widow who lost two husbands (Ya sama vdova - i ne raz, a dva). Describing the prison library, Humbert (who lost two wives) mentions A vagabond in Italy by Percy Elphinstone:


But no matter. I had my little revenge in due time. A man from Pasadena told me one day that Mrs. Maximovich née Zborovski had died in childbirth around 1945; the couple had somehow got over to California and had been used there, for an excellent salary, in a year-long experiment conducted by a distinguished American ethnologist. The experiment dealt with human and racial reactions to a diet of bananas and dates in a constant position on all fours. My informant, a doctor, swore he had seen with his own eyes obese Valechka and her colonel, by then gray-haired and also quite corpulent, diligently crawling about the well-swept floors of a brightly lit set of rooms (fruit in one, water in another, mats in a third and so on) in the company of several other hired quadrupeds, selected from indigent and helpless groups. I tried to find the results of these tests in the Review of Anthropology ; but they appear not to have been published yet. These scientific products take of course some time to fructuate. I hope they will be illustrated with photographs when they do get printed, although it is not very likely that a prison library will harbor such erudite works. The one to which I am restricted these days, despite my lawyer’s favors, is a good example of the inane eclecticism governing the selection of books in prison libraries. They have the Bible, of course, and Dickens (an ancient set, N. Y., G. W. Dillingham, Publisher, MDCCCLXXXVII); and the Children’s Encyclopedia (with some nice photographs of sunshine-haired Girl Scouts in shorts), and A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie; but they also have such coruscating trifles as A vagabond in Italy by Percy Elphinstone, author of Venice Revisited, Boston, 1868, and a comparatively recent (1946) Who’s Who in the Limelight actors, producers, playwrights, and shots of static scenes. In looking through the latter volume, I was treated last night to one of those dazzling coincidences that logicians loathe and poets love. I transcribe most of the page:

Pym, Roland. Born in Lundy, Mass., 1922. Received stage training at Elsinore Playhouse, Derby, N. Y. Made debut in Sunburst. Among his many appearances are Two Blocks from Here, The Girl in Green, Scrambled Husbands, The Strange Mushroom, Touch and Go, John Lovely, I Was Dreaming of You. 

Quilty, Clare, American dramatist. Born in Ocean City, N. J., 1911. Educated at Columbia University. Started on a commercial career but turned to playwriting. Author of The Little Nymph, The Lady Who Loved Lightning  (in collaboration with Vivian Darkbloom), Dark Age, The strange Mushroom, Fatherly Love, and others. His many plays for children are notable. Little Nymph  (1940) traveled 14,000 miles and played 280 performances on the road during the winter before ending in New York. Hobbies: fast cars, photography, pets. (1.8)


Colonel Maximovich (a White Russian for whom Humbert's first wife Valeria leaves her husband) brings to mind Aleksey Maksimovich Troshcheykin, the main character in The Event. The author of Skazki ob Italii ("Fairy Tales about Italy," 1911), Aleksey Maksimovich Peshkov (Maxim Gorki's real name) lived on Capri and in Sorrento.


4 months 1 week ago

I can just hear "Professor Zempf" (Peter Sellers) pronouncing those words! But Alexey's reference to a Queen Dolores in Lehar's Merry Widow mystifies me. There is no Queen Dolores in the operetta.



Queen Dolores (played by Una Merkel) is a character in The Merry Widow, a 1934 film adaptation (directed and produced by Ernst Lubitsch) of Lehar's operetta. “Lolita, or the Confession of a White Widowed Male,” such were the two titles under which the writer of the present note [John Ray, Jr., the author of the Foreword to Humbert's manuscript] received the strange pages it preambulates. On the other hand, The Merry Widow brings to mind "Good-bye, Camp Q, merry Camp Q" in Humbert's manuscript:


She was thinner and taller, and for a second it seemed to me her face was less pretty than the mental imprint I had cherished for more than a month: her cheeks looked hollowed and too much lentigo camouflaged her rosy rustic features; and that first impression (a very narrow human interval between two tiger heartbeats) carried the clear implication that all widower Humbert had to do, wanted to do, or would do, was to give this wan-looking though sun-colored little orphan aux yeux battus (and even those plumbaceous umbrae under her eyes bore freckles) a sound education, a healthy and happy girlhood, a clean home, nice girl-friends of her age among whom (if the fates deigned to repay me) I might find, perhaps, a pretty little Mägdlein for Herr Doktor Humbert alone. But “in a wink,” as the Germans say, the angelic line of conduct was erased, and I overtook my prey (time moves ahead of our fancies!), and she was my Lolita again – in fact, more of my Lolita than ever. I let my hand rest on her warm auburn head and took up her bag. She was all rose and honey, dressed in her brightest gingham, with a pattern of little red apples, and her arms and legs were of a deep golden brown, with scratches like tiny dotted lines of coagulated rubies, and the ribbed cuffs of her white socks were turned down at the remembered level, and because of her childish gait, or because I had memorized her as always wearing heelless shoes, her saddle oxfords looked somehow too large and too high-heeled for her. Good-bye, Camp Q, merry Camp Q. Good-bye, plain unwholesome food, good-bye Charlie boy. In the hot car she settled down beside me, slapped a prompt fly on her lovely knee; then, her mouth working violently on a piece of chewing gum, she rapidly cranked down the window on her side and settled back again. We sped through the striped and speckled forest. (1.27)


Humbert has in mind the German phrase im Augenblick (in a wink). In Goethe's Faust the hero famously asks beautiful Augenblick (moment) not to pass away:


Werd ich zum Augenblicke sagen:
Verweile doch! du bist so schön!
Dann magst du mich in Fesseln schlagen,
Dann will ich gern zugrunde gehn!
Dann mag die Totenglocke schallen,
Dann bist du deines Dienstes frei,
Die Uhr mag stehn, der Zeiger fallen,
Es sei die Zeit für mich vorbei! 

“If ever I to the moment shall say:
Beautiful moment, do not pass away!
Then you may forge your chains to bind me,
Then I will put my life behind me,
Then let them hear my death-knell toll,
Then from your labours you'll be free,
The clock may stop, the clock-hands fall,
And time come to an end for me!”


At the end of Conan Doyle's novel The Sign of the Four (1890) Sherlock Holmes quotes Goethe (Xenien 20. "Der Prophet"):


“Strange,” said I, “how terms of what in another man I should call laziness alternate with your fits of splendid energy and vigour.”

“Yes,” he answered, “there are in me the makings of a very fine loafer and also of a pretty spry sort of fellow. I often think of those lines of old Goethe,—

Schade daß die Natur nur Einen Menschen aus Dir schuf,
Denn zum würdigen Mann war und zum Schelmen der Stoff."

[Pity that Nature made of you only one person,

because there was material enough for a worthy man and a rogue.]

(Chapter XII "The The Strange Story of Jonathan Small")


In Camp Q Lolita was debauched by Charlie Holmes, the son of Shirley Holmes (the Camp's headmistress). Revisiting Ramsdale in September 1952, Humbert learns from Mrs. Chatfield (whose daughter Phyllis was Lolita’s classmate in Ramsdale school) that Charlie Holmes has just been killed in Korea:


Feeling I was losing my time, I drove energetically to the downtown hotel where I had arrived with a new bag more than five years before. I took a room, made two appointments by telephone, shaved, bathed, put on black clothes and went down for a drink in the bar. Nothing had changed. The barroom was suffused with the same dim, impossible garnet-red light that in Europe years ago went with low haunts, but here meant a bit of atmosphere in a family hotel. I sat at the same little table where at the very start of my stay, immediately after becoming Charlotte’s lodger, I had thought fit to celebrate the occasion by suavely sharing with her half a bottle of champagne, which had fatally conquered her poor brimming heart. As then, a moon-faced waiter was arranging with stellar care fifty sherries on a round tray for a wedding party. Murphy-Fantasia, this time. It was eight minutes to three. As I walked though the lobby, I had to skirt a group of ladies who with mille grâces were taking leave of each other after a luncheon party. With a harsh cry of recognition, one pounced upon me. She was a stout, short woman in pearl-gray, with a long, gray, slim plume to her small hat. It was Mrs. Chatfield. She attacked me with a fake smile, all aglow with evil curiosity. (Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank Laselle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done o eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?) Very soon I had that avid glee well under control. She thought I was in California. How was - ? With exquisite pleasure I informed her that my stepdaughter had just married a brilliant young mining engineer with a hush-hush job in the Northwest. She said she disapproved of such early marriages, she would never let her Phillys, who was now eighteen -

“Oh yes, of course,” I said quietly. “I remember Phyllis. Phyllis and Camp Q. Yes, of course. By the way, did she ever tell you how Charlie Holmes debauched there his mother’s little charges?”

Mrs. Chatfield’s already broken smile now disintegrated completely.

“For shame,” she cried, “for shame, Mr. Humbert! The poor boy has just been killed in Korea.”

I said didn’t she think “vient de,” with the infinitive, expressed recent events so much more neatly than the English “just,” with the past? But I had to be trotting off, I said. (2.33)


Humbert thinks of the French phrase vient de mourir. In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951) VN describes his first erotic experience and quotes the words of his father, "Tolstoy vient de mourir:"


High-principled but rather simple Lenski, who was abroad for the first time, had some trouble keeping the delights of sightseeing in harmony with his pedagogical duties. We took advantage of this and guided him toward places where our parents might not have allowed us to go. He could not resist the Wintergarten, for instance, and so, one night, we found ourselves there, drinking ice-chocolate in an orchestra box. The show developed on the usual lines: a juggler in evening clothes; then a woman, with flashes of rhinestones on her bosom, trilling a concert aria in alternating effusions of green and red light; then a comic on roller skates. Between him and a bicycle act (of which more later) there was an item on the program called “The Gala Girls,” and with something of the shattering and ignominious physical shock I had experienced when coming that cropper on the rink, I recognized my American ladies in the garland of linked, shrill-voiced, shameless “girls,” all rippling from left to right, and then from right to left, with a rhythmic rising of ten identical legs that shot up from ten corollas of flounces. I located my Louise’s face—and knew at once that it was all over, that I had lost her, that I would never forgive her for singing so loudly, for smiling so redly, for disguising herself in that ridiculous way so unlike the charm of either “proud Creoles” or “questionable señoritas.” I could not stop thinking of her altogether, of course, but the shock seems to have liberated in me a certain inductive process, for I soon noticed that any evocation of the feminine form would be accompanied by the puzzling discomfort already familiar to me. I asked my parents about it (they had come to Berlin to see how we were getting along) and my father ruffled the German newspaper he had just opened and replied in English (with the parody of a possible quotation—a manner of speech he often adopted in order to get going): “That, my boy, is just another of nature’s absurd combinations, like shame and blushes, or grief and red eyes.” “Tolstoy vient de mourir,” he suddenly added, in another, stunned voice, turning to my mother.

“Da chto tï [something like “good gracious”]!” she exclaimed in distress, clasping her hands in her lap. “Pora domoy [Time to go home],” she concluded, as if Tolstoy’s death had been the portent of apocalyptic disasters. (Chapter Ten, 3)


Leo Tolstoy died on Nov. 7, 1910 (OS). Humbert was born in 1910, in Paris. In the Russian Lolita (1967) Gumbert's sarcasm is much more venomous:


"В самом деле", сказал я (пользуясь дивной свободою, свойственной сновидениям). "Вот так судьба! Бедный мальчик пробивал нежнейшие, невосстановимейшие перепоночки, прыскал гадючьим ядом - и ничего, жил превесело, да ещё получил посмертный орденок. Впрочем, извините меня, мне пора к адвокату".


In Conan Doyle's novel Holmes tells Watson that there are in him the makings of a very fine loafer and also of a pretty spry sort of fellow. In Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart and Salieri (1830) Salieri calls Mozart gulyaka prazdnyi (an idle loafer) and Mozart says that genius and villainy are two things incompatible.